Behind the Screen: CNN Surveys Tech Vendors

May 1, 2006  •  Post A Comment

CNN.com executive producer Sandy Malcolm spent the better part of two days walking the exhibition floor at last week’s National Association of Broadcaster’s convention in Las Vegas, for the most part passing up the high-profile traditional NAB exhibitors showing new cameras or editing systems.

Instead, she scouted scores of lesser-known vendors whose technological tools could serve as the plumbing to deliver news and video online at CNN.com, on cellphones and via CNN’s 4-month-old broadband channel CNN Pipeline and other new platforms. In some cases the new tools’ ease of use will play a part in guiding the news outlet’s decisions to launch new ventures.

Ms. Malcolm was doing her part to carry out the vision of her boss, David Payne, the senior VP and general manager of CNN.com. Mr. Payne maintains that news organizations need to produce content for anytime, anywhere on-demand consumption. He espoused that refrain during an NAB panel session last Tuesday morning.

A tour of the NAB show floor with Ms. Malcolm and Brent Berkman, operations manager for CNN Technical Operations, provided a glimpse into what news outlets need to shore up their operations as they move into the new media world.

Top prospects include cellphones that transmit live video; software that formats and pushes content to multiple platforms and even a voice-activated TelePrompTer for CNN Pipeline’s online anchors.

As evidence of the changing nature of news consumption, the CNN staffers spent their time at NAB perusing tools, software and gadgets that promise to save time and enable broadband and mobile video production and distribution.

Discovering new media tools that help get news out quickly and with ease are both business imperatives in a world where nothing is left on the cutting room floor anymore.

“We are looking for the things that make the production process more smooth, more efficient and gives us access to more content,” Ms. Malcolm said. “It’s almost this new world where you have to know what’s going on because otherwise you are just assuming the person buying [the equipment] knows what you want.”

Reaching Into Video

Cellphones proved their mettle during the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, but they haven’t been used yet to transmit live video. That is changing as companies introduce the software needed to handle a live video feed from a cellphone. This capability can help reporters in dicey situations, where access with big, bulky cameras could be tough, Ms. Malcolm said.

She and Mr. Berkman visited Madrid, Spain-based Createcna, which demonstrated its News Mobile Studio software package for producers and editors in the control room. The package is used to receive and manipulate cellphone video sent live from 3G phones, the new slate of advanced cellphone that is just beginning to be available in the U.S.

“So if I’m in the field, I can put up a phone and be live on the air, and it’s being recorded into the server at the same time,” Mr. Berkman said. The software interface enables producers to access the footage again for later use.

CNN also checked out new capabilities from Anystream, which encodes video for CNN.com and CNN’s broadband channel CNN Pipeline. CNN is using Anystream technology as it explores delivering Pipeline content on Sony PlayStation Portables, iPods and other portable devices. The Anystream software at once formats video so it can be played out on multiple platforms.

“Video podcasting and PSPs are the next frontier,” Ms. Malcolm said. “We are exploring what it would take to add that,” she said.

The gadget Ms. Malcolm and Mr. Berkman are most likely to buy first is an automated TelePrompTer they looked at from Autoscript. The product is voice-activated, so the words flow at the speed the anchor is speaking. Currently, many CNN Pipeline anchors use foot or hand pedals to control the TelePrompTer, which can be distracting.

“[A voice-activated prompter] makes the anchors happy and they can focus on content,” she said.

Before committing any dollars, news outlets must ensure that new tools can play nice with existing systems, Ms. Malcolm said. If they don’t integrate into the larger CNN news-gathering infrastructure, then they won’t fly.

“There are technologies out there that can make the workflow easier and make the content better,” she said.